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How a Vermont Cynic grad landed at The Washington Post before her 23rd birthday

May 18, 2017

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Former Vermont Cynic layout editor Aviva Loeb graduated from the University of Vermont in December 2015 and immediately scored a job designing pages for the Arizona Republic. Fourteen months later, she moved on to The Washington Post, adding her name to an employee roster emblazoned with names like Ben Bradlee, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward.

Not bad for a 22-year-old from Burlington, Vermont.

Such accomplisments don’t happen without work—or even with one kind of work. A student editor might design some amazing pages, but it takes more than an impressive clip book to get to the Post.

I asked Aviva a few questions about how to land that “dream job” …


How did you prepare for your career while still at UVM?

I was the layout editor of the Cynic from 2012 to 2014. From early on, I was getting experience with a lot of things I deal with in the real world,  like working on a deadline, conceptualizing art for stories, and working with many different personalities. I think learning how to problem-solve and work through conflicts in a newsroom was one of the most important things the Cynic taught me. I also learned a ton of technical skills for working with Adobe Creative Suite to create the Cynic layouts.

I supplemented the Cynic work by doing practicums, where the Cynic’s adviser, Chris Evans, and I worked through different areas that I wanted to learn more about, like leadership strategies. We also worked through Tim Harrower’s News Designers Handbook from cover to cover, doing almost every exercise in the book.

I did four internships while at UVM, including the Jerusalem Post and San Diego Magazine, and I took a magazine design class at the Rhode Island School of Design during the summer before my sophomore year. The other important thing I did was get involved in the Society for News Design. I applied for travel grants and scholarships, which helped me gain exposure to the industry and fund my unpaid internships.

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Aviva designed this “Milk” icon for the Post’s Kindle app.

How did you wind up at the Washington Post so soon after graduation? What was your path?

Working at the Post has been my dream for as long as being a visual journalist has been my dream. I’m honestly still shocked it happened as quickly as it did. I’ve been really fortunate in that, through SND, I got to know a lot of the designers at the Post while I was a student. This included Greg Manifold, the design director, who was one of my mentors as a student, critiquing my work on several occasions, and he let me shadow him and check out the newsroom. When I shadowed him I got to sit with my now boss, Amy King, for about an hour and learn about what her team, Emerging News Products, was doing. That was the first time I ever really thought about careers in digital, because I was so inspired by the work that they were doing. I always kept in touch with the people at the Post and tried to see them and talk to them at SND and other industry events, or whenever I was in DC.

Career-wise, before the Post I went out to Phoenix and worked in the Gannett Phoenix Design Studio for about 14 months. I vividly remember sitting in Chris’ office in November of 2015 and weighing my job offers. Chris asked me where I wanted to be in five years, and when I said, The Washington Post, he advised me to go out to Phoenix.
I worked on the Arizona Republic, and even though I worked in a Design Studio—a place where we designed pages for newspapers all across the country—I worked face-to-face with editors, which I really enjoyed. I designed for the daily print paper, focusing on A1 and Sunday sections, as well as creating images for social media.
I had really great managers and got to work with a bunch of incredibly smart designers who taught me a ton of stuff I didn’t learn in school. It was also really great to be able to watch how other designers think and problem-solve. The studio director, Tracy Collins, runs a really fabulous newsletter every week and showcases the best work from the studio and teaches a different lesson every week, so I got exposed to a lot. It changed my method a little bit. And I was able to go from the mentality of “I need to figure this out on my own and teach myself” to “I’m sitting next to someone who knows how to do this and can help me.”
I also got really involved with the Society for News Design as a volunteer, first as the deputy membership director and then as the website editor and now as the membership director. Being so involved has helped me stay on top of everything happening in the industry.

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Aviva designed this image for the Post’s national app

What’s the best thing about your job? The toughest thing?

Well, I’m really just getting started at the Post, but one of my favorite things is that no two days look the same. One day there was breaking news that needed to be added to the Snapchat story, and recently I created a social image for a story about a woman who runs a workshop where people get naked and talk about body image.  I also love that working for the emerging news products team means that what my job description is right now might not be what it is in five years, or even a year, just because of how fast the way we read stories is changing.
The most challenging thing so far has been adjusting from a daily paper to a non-stop form of news. On the Republic, I would conceptualize and illustrate maybe two stories a day, and now I’m doing about five to 10 in a shift. Also in print there’s a lot of downtime in the middle of a shift when you’re waiting for editors, and the Post puts out so much digital content that you go non-stop all day. Which I love.
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Aviva’s Samantha Bee image is for a new product, launching soon, called The Lily.

From your perspective, where is journalism heading? Is there hope for aspiring journalists?
It’s hard to predict. Things are changing so rapidly. Some of the platforms I design for didn’t exist when I started college. I think technology will play a huge roll in the future of journalism. There is definitely a need for journalists right now. There are stories that need to be told. What I think will set apart successful journalists in the coming years is the ability to adapt quickly to change, take big risks, and the motivation to teach themselves new skills.
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Like the “Milk” icon above, Aviva designed this image for the Post’s Kindle app.

What’s the one piece of advice that you would give UVM students who want to go into media careers?

I think what students often forget is that it’s OK to advocate for yourself and for your career. Put yourself out there. Ask professionals to look at your work. Ask them for advice. Ask if you can shadow them. Apply for internships you don’t think you’re qualified for.

One thing that makes UVM and its student journalists special is their drive to succeed in this field even without a structured program. And that’s something that I’ve found professionals notice and really appreciate.

One other amazing tip from this Cynic-grad turned-Post staffer: The Washington Post gives free digital subscriptions to students and educators with .edu emails. So sign up!

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One Comment leave one →
  1. May 18, 2017 5:30 pm

    Go Aviva!!

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